I suppose it was inevitable that there would be a sequel to (in my opinion) one of the best movies of all time, “The Magnificent Seven.” If even “The Godfather” couldn’t escape this curse, what hoped did “Seven” have? Made 6 years after the original, “Return” brings back Yul Brynner to reprise the role of Chris Adams, the gunslinger with a conscience. Robert Fuller steps into the role of Vin (played in the original by Steve McQueen) and the rest of the gunslingers that make up the seven are new faces; but other than that, the core of the original remains intact.
The film opens with Chico (Julian Mateos) now a farmer and living in the village that he and the other 6 saved from bandits in the original. Trouble comes calling in the form of gunmen led by Lorca (Emilio Fernandez), who takes all the men away by force. It appears Lorca has also taken the men from two other villages as well, but for what nefarious purpose? Chico’s wife seeks out Chris Adams for help, and in no time Chris has assembled a new group of gunfighters and sets off to discover what’s happened to Chico, only to find themselves facing — what else? — overwhelming odds.
If you like the whole premise of the original, then “Return” gives you more of the same. Brynner and his band of gunfighters are once again outgunned, outmanned, and hopelessly outnumbered as they struggle to defend a stationary location — in this case, a church. It is revealed that the abducted men have been taken to the church in order to reconstruct it as a monument to Lorca’s dead sons. Lorca, a rich land baron, blames the (in his opinion) cowardly farmers for allowing his sons to die in the same church during a gunbattle with outlaws years earlier.
Immediately you know that Lorca has a backstory. How do you know? Well, Lorca and Adams are old acquaintances, and both men tell their stories to each other, and each men tell their stories to others, and so on and so on. The point is, “Return” seems very exposition-prone, meaning everyone has a story and isn’t shy about telling it. This makes the sequel very different from the original. In the original, while the gunfighters all had personal reasons for joining the hopeless cause, those stories were kept secret. The way the men talked and acted were enough to let us in on their personal demons. The sequel, on the other hand, suffers badly from too much exposition that gives away all of the men’s mysteries.
For the most part “Return” is more of the same, which is a good thing. The film, like the original, is relatively low on action, with much of the action taking place toward the end as the two sides clash in a series of attack-and-withdraw encounters. The violence remains mostly bloodless with a few exceptions, and Yul Brynner remains cool under stress, and holds the film together. Of course, Brynner’s Adams is no longer so mysterious, as writer Larry Cohen gives the leading man just as much background information as he gives the rest of the seven. Again, I could have done without this, as stripping away Adams’ mystery also means stripping away the man’s charm.
Another notable difference is the treatment of the villain Lorca, who is given real-life personalities instead of cartoon ones like in the original. Lorca is not a one-dimensional homicidal bandit, but a wealthy landowner trying to make up for his own personal sins by punishing those he feels are responsible. Of course Lorca is all twisted inside out and his motives are way off, which makes him all the more sympathetic because he can’t see it.
Although not nearly as good as the original (and that goes without saying, doesn’t it?), “Return of the Magnificent Seven” is still a good time. It is a pure western, with doomed gunfighters and exciting shootouts. Unfortunately the film suffers from having such a great pedigree in the form of the original that it can’t help but falter. Also, almost none of the seven are memorable except for Yul Brynner’s Chris Adams. The rest seem to have specific personalities and it was fun to guess who would die and who would live (since some of the seven always dies in every incarnation of this particular subgenre), but I was still hardpressed to remember all of their names.
As the saying goes, “The original is much better.”
Burt Kennedy (director) / Larry Cohen (screenplay)
CAST: Yul Brynner …. Chris Adams
Robert Fuller …. Vin
Julian Mateos …. Chico
Warren Oates …. Colbee
Claude Akins …. Frank